Mark: Thank you very very much for an invigorating opening speech. What you have mentioned about being it our responsibility to be active and to be a part of debate is crucial. And it is our responsibility, not to take a backseat but to be actively involved to have a better future for all.
Now we will move on to our second opening speaker who I have the greatest pleasure to invite. In the European Parliament we have 2 deaf members of the Parliament.
One, ms. Helga Stevens was the candidate for presidency for the Parliament. She is the vice president of an EC.
I would like to welcome ms. Helga Stevens to the stage.
Ms. Helga Stevens:
Hello everyone, good morning.
I believe it is technically still morning. I can say that. I am Helga Stevens. Sorry for being here late. I was in the Parliament this morning. While I am giving the presentation, my assistant may come in. I need to sign something.
I’m one of the co-chairs of the disability intergroup at the European Parliament. I’m honored to come here and speak. You may not be familiar with the intergroup. It is a cross party working group. Which focuses on disability issues and inclusion of individuals with disabilities. This group is really important.
Because it is not just about ideology or political perspectives. Those have been left at the door. We talk about inclusion. It is an important group. I’m one of the cochairs. There are several. We also have several vice chairs. We have very broad support for this group. And it is in fact one of the most long stanting intergroups in Parliament. Parliament has many intergroups on animal rights, various topics. The disability intergroups is one of the longest established. I’m proud to be a cochair of that group. Microsoft and EUD I thank for inviting me. It is important to have deaf people involved in the dialogue. I appreciate Microsoft’s willingness to have this discussion. With the deaf people.
With people that are impacted. Deaf people, hard of hearing people, cochlear implant users. It is important to know that. The term deafness is broad. There is no 1 deaf person that represents the entire community. There is varying degrees. from mild hearing loss to those who are deaf. And depend on sign language. There is a huge variety. Within that group, all the individuals become ignored from society. It is an invisible disability. A lot of deaf people don’t like the term disability. They shy away from that. There is a linguistic concern. That’s a primary issue in communication barrier. All the people in the group do have barriers and challenges because of this. There is a linguistic minority group. There is also a disability group. We need to keep both of these in mind within the realm of deafness.
Another important point to not forget is the deafblind community. They have an additional challenge in being included in our society.
In our society today, access to information, to communication is paramount. A lot of the information is given auditorial, which is for deafblind people don’t have access to it. For those who cannot hear and see they have extreme challenges in accessing communication.
We need to consider how these individuals can also be included in our society.
The European Platform of Deafness, hard of hearing and deafblind is a worthwhile platform which shows the various types of deafness and the range. They share similar interests and similar frustrations as well. Together, when we joined together, we can have a lot of accomblishments. One issue is subtitling. That affects all of the people in that group. One topic where we can come and work together to overcome the challenges that we have been facing with getting information subtitled.
Even parent organisations are involved in this European platform. Which is a positive move. Parents of deaf children play a very important role in the children’s lives. Babies who are deaf or hard of hearing, their parents need to be included as well. Deafness and hearing loss is not that big of a deal. We can deal with that and respond to it and provide in a positive way. Positive messages are being shared. As a member of the European Parliament I have been working on many different important initiatives. Like the European Accessibility Act. Which you may know about. This has been a massive struggle to achieve and it is not over yet. The work we have been done as Parliamentarians is done. We came up with compromises. It is now in the Council’s hands. Which then means, what it means is that all 28 member states, the UK is still a part of Europe. We still consider 28. They have a discussion about the resolution we made of the European Accessibility Act. It is on their table to consider. During the Bulgarian presidency, they are going to make this a top priority. I hope they do that.
It would be wonderful if we could get this completed before July during the presidency. If not, the file gets passed on to the next presidency, Austria. We’ll see how that proceeds. Whether or not it is a priority for the Council or not. Some of the member states are resistent. It is complicated as a piece of legislation. It is very important all of us take measures to improve inclusion, to improve accessibility. For European citizens.
So that’s one file I have been working on as an MEP. Another file is the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The European Parliament has already passed 2 resolutions. I see my assistant. I’ll let him know that he can interrupt me. I apologize.
Sorry. Sorry for the interruption. This is my assistant, Filip, thank you for coming in Filip.
The other file I have been working on is the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Which is also very important. You are all aware of this. So, all of the EU member states, except for 1 have ratified the UNCRPD. Your countries have accountability the convention is implemented in the member states. What you don’t know is that the EU as a whole also has committed responsibility. They have ratified the UNCRPD. We have been encouraging the EU, practically. The institutions, to make sure all the institutions within Europe are moving forward, with their own implementation of the UNCRPD in their own practices. For example, within the Parliament, for employment. Or the Commission as employer. There is many different ways it can be implemented. The report has been quite broad. The European Commission has to respond to the United Nations monitoring committee. They have several questions to ask. And the Parliament also offers response and commentary on their own views. It is up to the Commission to follow through. And the Parliament has the support to the Commission within the monitoring committee. I know ms. Grange has similar views on the inclusion of persons with disabilities. We are striving for the same goals to make sure Europe is accessible and inclusive for all citizens, regardless of their gender, color of their skin, ability or disability. It is for all citizens. It is imperative. I want to make sure that’s clear.
That Europe is not far from where you sleep. It is a Dutch saying. You can’t say you don’t have nothing to do with Europe. You are Europe. You are very much involved in Europe. Your governments make up the Council. It is made up of the 28 countries. In my own country, Belgium, when there is a negative decision, Europe gets blamed. It is your governments and the Council which adopt these negative decisions. We can’t displace blame. We have to take accountability for the decisions of the governments. We are all in the same tub. We all have a responsibility to make sure our governments are aware of how important these needs are for the citizens and the importance of cooperation at the European institutional level. As well as the national parliament.
We also need to keep in mind the role of the NGO’s, that they take in Europe. The European Union of the Deaf, EFHOH. There is a deafblind, EDBU association. And Fapeda. And the European Cochlear Implant organisation as well. These are various organisations in the realm of deafness. We have the European Disability Forum. The umbrella organisation. Let’s not forget that industry companies like Microsoft and Apple. It is probably a bad word here. I’m neutral. I talk with everyone. And other companies like Samsung, Nokia. A Finnish company. I see an individual from Finland. All these companies have responsibilities to make sure the products are accessible to the potential users. I believe that Microsoft and Apple and some of the other companies in this industry can really take a leading role. And demonstrate how their products are made accessible. In Parliament we hear: It is impossible to make this device accessible. Microsoft, it is your job to say: Yes you can. We have to change the mindset. If we can change the mindset instead of saying: we can’t do it, to, we can do it. That’s my message. As to the colleagues in theParliament. When they don’t feel accessibility isn’t important. It is important. It is important to all of us. Thank you.
Mark: Thank you so much ms. Stevens.
Thank you Helga for such an inspiring opening speech. And as she said it is important to lead by example. It is our responsibility to lead by example and support her in doing so. She is the representative of deafness in the European institutions.